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Wednesday, 7 December 1938


Mr BLACKBURN (Bourke) .- Every one must admit that the consequence of this new policy will be that the amount available in this country for the employment of the people in useful productive industries, and also for social services, will he enormously and progressively diminished. Obviously when a nation embarks upon preparations for war upon a large scale it cannot provide additional social services. It has not the money to do so. It must use its available money for its warlike preparations, or itmust raise money for the purpose by further taxation. By increasing taxation, it imposes further burdens upon the community, withdrawing money from productive employments and tying it up in the fixed capital of the war industry - a fixed capital which we hope will never become unfixed. The loan policy, which is the alternative, must cause an inflation of the amount of credit or money equivalent, thus increasing the prices of the people's necessaries. It cannot be said that the great masses of the people have any real interest in even a war for the purpose of defending their country, for the great majority of them have nothing to defend. The people who have something to defend in any country are the people who own the wealth of it.

The policy of the Government is being recommended to the people of Australia under the influence of two appeals to the imagination. The first appeal is to that of fear, and the second is to that of Empire loyalty by the suggestion that, should Britain be involved in a war as the champion of small nations, we shall be fighting for the liberties of the human race. In every country to-day people are being urged, under the whip of fear, to agree to the expenditure of large sums of money upon warlike preparations which must have the effect of awakening a spirit of hate between nations, and result in depriving the masses of the people, to an even greater degree than ever, of the things they need. There is no need to say much about the potency of the fear motive.

As to the other motive, we are told that the British Government stands today as one of the champions of public liberty, freedom, democracy, and the rights of small nations, and that as Britain will probably be involved in war as the result of standing for these things, it behoves us to be ready to enter into the war on its side. But surely no reasonable person can conceive of the Chamberlain Government going to war for the small nations, or of it standing as the champion of democracy ! Any one who, in his wilder moments, might have imagined these things must have been disillusioned by the first experience of China, the experience of Abyssinia and Spain, and the experiences of China today. The Chamberlain Government is different from the British people. It is different also from Great Britain. I yield to no man in my admiration of the British people; but I have no more admiration for the Government of Great Britain than I have for theGovernment of Australia, though. I must say that 1 admire the Government of Australia much more than I do the Government of Great Britain. Whatever happens in Great Britain, the Chamberlain Government is, to all intents and purposes, the ally of the governments of Germany and Italy. It will never be engaged in a war against those governments for the reason that it protects in Great Britain the same interest that Hitler protects in Germany and Mussolini protects in Italy. There is an international solidarity of the capitalist class which will always be above national solidarity, and the loyalty of the Chamberlain Government is to the great capitalists and financiers of Great Britain. I do not believe, for a moment, that Great Britain is running any risk of being involved in a war as the champion of the small nations or as the champion of democracy. There is very little difference in practice between the measures adopted in the interests of capitalists in so called democratic capitalistic countries like Great Britain and those adopted in such interests in countries like Germany and Italy. It is only a question of degree. To the masses of the people there is really no difference. As a matter of fact, the helpless and hopeless masses of the people are probably more cared for by the governments of Italy and Germany than by those of Britain and America - and of Australia too, for that matter.

Any war in contemplation seems to me to be a war not to ensure that the smaller nations will be protected, but to ensure that China shall not become the monopoly of one nation, and that the Pacific countries shall not be controlled by one nation. We may expect in China such action as that taken by Theodore Roosevelt, in 1905, at the time of the Russo-Japanese war, when he sought to protect the interests of American investors. I believe that we shall shortly see similar action taken to protect British and American interests in that country. That is possibly where our menace of war lies. It is impossible to conceive of anything else. What the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) has asked us to do is to participate in an Empire-wide preparation for war. There can be no doubt about that. I felt that when I heard him deliver his speech last night, and felt it again when I read his speech this morning. Tho honorable gentleman said so in as many words.


Mr Lane - There would not be much harm in that, would there?


Mr BLACKBURN - There is harm to any country in war which is for the defence of the capitalist and financial classes. Such a war is very different from a war to defend the soil of Great Britain.


Mr JOHN LAWSON (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable member disapprove of the Government's policy?


Mr BLACKBURN - I do ; and I think I am saying so as definitely as I can. I disapprove of the Government's policy. I believe that it is based upon the assumption that the Pacific is going to be a major theatre of war, if not in fact, the only theatre of war. It is contemplated that Great Britain will detach part of its fleet to serve in the Pacific. In the last few years we have come to believe t,hak, without the consent of Italy, Great Britain cannot send vessels through the Mediterranean and Red Seas. Such consent cannot be won unless the Government of Great Britain is the friend of Italy. I think that unless Britain is assured of security in Europe it will not spare any portion of its fleet for operations in the Pacific. In my opinion, it is not ' likely that the Government of Great Britain will become involved in European war. Therefore, it will be able to send vessels to the Pacific. The Minister's policy is based on the assumption that British vessels will be sent to the Pacific and, expressly as well as implicitly, commits Australia not merely to the defence of Australia's shores, but also to co-operation with Britain in the defence of overseas trade. In my opinion, the Minister for Defence contemplated this. Great Britain, of course, will desire to protect the material interests of its capitalist and' financier class, who have a big stake in the East. If Great Britain with America, or Great Britain alone, should fight Japan for the privilege of exploiting a conquered country, China, then, of course, Australia would be in danger of war. But if that is the possibility that we are expected to face, the Government should tell us so. We should be told what we are asked to fight for. But what has been said to us is that this expenditure is required, first, because of the danger that faces small nations; and, secondly, because of the menace of an attack upon Great Britain, and, in consequence, upon Australia as a British dominion. It seems to me that the policy of the Government pays, no regard at all to the needs of Australia. Rather, Australia is to be regarded as included in Empire partnership and is to be expected to prepare for imperialist war.

The ' Labour party stands for the defence of Australian soil against outside foreign aggression. It holds that preparations should be made to enable the country to defend itself against attack, but at present we are being asked to do a great deal more than that. We are being asked, not only to prepare for an attack upon our own shores, but also to police shipping and to protect overseas trade. In my opinion, immediately war occurs there will be no. overseas trade to protect. The moment we start to take active steps to protect overseas trade by naval preparations, we at once enter the danger zone, in which it would be impossible to distinguish between aggression and defence. It has always been the policy of the Labour movement in various countries - I do not say of Labour governments only - to make provision for the protection of their territory against attack by foreign powers, but that preparation is always made in the country concerned, and it is directed against aggression only.


Mr Street - The honorable member cannot remember what I said last night on this subject. I said that naval preparations were necessary to defend our trade routes.


Mr BLACKBURN - The Minister said -

Our defence problem as a small nation is insoluble without Empire co-operation. We can share in the common naval defence of the Commonwealth, hut we cannot provide naval forces sufficient for our security.

If a bargain is being made with Britain to provide a naval force for the defence of the Pacific, there can be no doubt that attack is expected- in that quarter. If such an attack be made, British financial interests will be in danger, and, in my opinion, what is contemplated is the possibility of Great Britain being involved in a war in the Pacific, and that, as a consequence, Australia will be in danger of an attack.


Mr Lane - Is the honorable member in favour of helping Great Britain?


Mr BLACKBURN - I am not in favour of doing anything except defend Australia against the possibility of invasion. As I have said over and over again in this House, in the event of warlike operations in foreign countries it becomes impossible to draw the line between defence and aggression. It is for that reason that I wish it to be made very clear that, in my opinion, we should not engage in any military operations whatever except in our own territory, and for the defence of our own soil. I admit that it is necessary to take risks by adopting that policy, but at any rate any nation that does so makes it clear that it is doing nothing to perpetuate war in the world. If every nation acted upon that principle, there would be no war.


Sir Henry Gullett - If they did, but they do not.


Mr BLACKBURN - Some nation must make a start. I am quite satisfied that we can do nothing in Australia which will make us absolutely safe. We could spend a hundred times or a thousand times this sum, and yet not have absolute security. We could not ensure Australia against risks, but we could do our part in promoting world peace by announcing that although it is not possible in the world as it exists to-day for a nation to disarm because a nation cannot invoke the sermon on the Mount to defend its enjoyment of what it has taken in defiance of the Ten Commandments, we shall so limit our defence policy that no one can believe that we have aggressive intentions against anybody. We are told that everybody is concerned in this programme, and that we all have a tremendous amount at stake in case war should come. That may be so in this respect, that probably in this country we enjoy a greater standard of comfort and political liberty than do the people of other countries. But there are vast and increasing masses of people who are sinking lower and lower in the scale, with no one to care for them, and who say that it does not matter twopence to them what flag they live under. That state of things is becoming more marked in this country and in many others. There is only one way to ensure that your people will want to defend themselves, and that is by making their stake in their country not imaginary or theoretical, as it is at present, but practical. This can be done by so re-organizing the community that everybody has his rightful place in it, and feels assured of it. Until that is brought about, the masses of the people will not be ready to make the sacrifices which war and preparations for war call for. I hope they will never be called upon to do so. I find myself, with the greatest respect, unable to allow the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) to speak for me in this matter. Doubtless that will not worry the House or him. But it seems clear that we are beginning again the cycle of preparation for war which we began in 1913 and 1914. In 1914 we were involved in war, then in militaristic proposals in 1915 and 1916, covering a system of recruiting which was conscription under a subterfuge, then in the proposal for actual conscription, and finally in the Treaty of Versailles. No vote of mine will be cast to retrace the course of that cycle.







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